With all the secrecy and brou-ha-ha surrounding the sixth season of Ryan Murphy’s and Brad Falchuik’s anthology series American Horror Story, I was ready to be awake with nightmares after viewing the premiere. Instead, I was put to sleep. That’s despite the usual strong performance by Sarah Paulson, who should have won the Emmy for last year’s stint as Hypodermic Sally in AHS: Hotel. The premiere, which let us know the season will be set up like a mock crime documentary, with actors playing people who supposedly went through the “nightmare” and other actors playing the actors-playing-the-people-who-went-through-it-all. Instead of lending authenticity to the story, the mock-documentary style added emotional distance to My Roanoke Nightmare. Instead of suspense, the premiere, cleverly titled “Chapter 1,” delivered a horror story about as scary as Saturday morning’s Scooby-Doo mysteries. American Horror Story has lost all its horror.
All the crazy trailers, which viewers could vote on to be entered in a sweepstakes to win a Mercedes Benz, which is, apparently, the official sponsor of season 6, led us to believe that all the previous seasons of American Horror Story might have something to do with this sixth season. I didn’t see anything from the teasers that might have had anything to do with the premiere, unless it was the freaky mobile left in the house of Shelby (Lily Rabe, in the mock-umentary; Sarah Paulson, in the mock-re-enactment, below) and her husband Will (André Holland, in the mock-umentary; Cuba Gooding Jr in the mock-re-enactment, below).
The couple moves from The City after Will is randomly attacked in a knock-out, and after Shelby loses their baby in a miscarriage. They go to Will’s home state of North Carolina, find a monstrously huge “farmhouse” (how about, mansion, you crazy AHS guys) in the middle of the woods, and despite being totally and completely abandoned, the place is in incredibly good condition, like no rotting floors or broken windows or even cobwebs as far as I could tell.
To make the sale of the mansion/farmhouse even more unrealistic, there are only two bidders for the abandoned three-story-Gothic, which comes with mega-acreage that is “protected” as green space or something like that: one of the bidding groups is Shelby/Will, and the other is a group of redneck hillbillies who look more like they came out of the mountains of Appalachia than from North Carolina. (One viewer — Marcy Leavitt Psy.D (@LifeCoachMarcyL) — tweeted that one of the hillbillies was played by Chaz Bono, whom I didn’t even recognize, but his image serves well enough for all the hillbillies in the premiere.)
The bidding starts at $20-25K, I think, but to out-bid the hillbillies, Shelby and Will offer $40K — their whole life savings, I guess, which is supposedly why the couple has to remain in the haunted mansion after it’s clear that there’s something obviously wrong with the entire set-up. Around the mansion, it hails teeth, and not clean little baby-teeth but grungy adult molars. Too bad Shelby is the only one who sees those teeth. Two ghosts trail across the hall, but, again, Shelby is the only one who sees them. Is she crazy? Is this an allusion to the second season of AHS, when Sarah Paulson’s reporter-character voluntarily committed herself to an Asylum to get the inside scoop? Nah, it’s just a predictable “horror” story, where only one person (and the viewers) sees what’s really going on, and nobody else believes her.
So Will goes off to work — he’s a traveling salesman — and Shelby tries to get comfortable in the house, doing yoga, drinking rosé, cooking, taking a dip in the hot-tub which is out in the yard in the dark in the woods which is so cray-cray I knew something bad was going to happen. And it did. Somebody pushed Shelby underwater and held her there, but then the cops said there were no footprints or other evidence that anyone had been there.
So what does Hubby-Will do? Convinced that it is “just those hillbillies,” he runs out and buys a gun to protect himself and his often-alone-wifey. Wrong! He installs security cameras all around the property (but not inside the actual house as far as I could tell) so that he can watch future paranormal or harassing incidents on his Smartphone from his hotel room in whatever faraway city he happens to be selling his products. How predictable is this getting? Yeah, you guessed it.
To make it more interesting, or just to have more guest stars in the show, Will asks his newly sober former-cop sister (Angela Bassett) to come stay with Shelby while he’s on his next trip. Shelby and Sis-in-law have some underlying hostility, mainly about Sis’ drinking and Shelby’s wanting to live in The City. So, I guess Sis thinks Shelby is making up all the creepity-creepy stuff so she can get hubby Will back to The City, and Shelby thinks Sis is still drinking and not being supportive. Okay, so an empty wine bottle rolls into Sis’ bedroom, and she yells at Shelby, and Shelby yells back, and then they hear something that makes them go to the door of the basement.
And here’s where it gets even more ridiculous. Though Sis can’t get any lights on, and though she’s told Shelby she still has her gun, Sis goes down into the dark basement, with Shelby following, without any weapons. Oh, those crazy girls. Then the door gets slammed and locked — no, really? — and the two of them hear this noise which is some weird video on a television in the middle of the basement. Sis has a wrench by then, but the two of them just stand there watching the video, which looked like it had Dennis O’Hare with a beard, lying under something: it was way to grainy and jumpy to tell exactly what was going on. But instead of being freaked out by the fact that somebody got into the basement and put a video in a television in the middle of the floor, the two just keep watching it.
At some point in the show, a creepy mobile appeared in the entry way of the house, looking like something Rust and Cole were seeing in the Bayou in True Detective season 1, and then Will watched something scary from his Smartphone but of course he couldn’t do anything about it, and then the next thing I knew, Shelby was running out of the house, jumping into the car, and driving away. Of course, she hit somebody standing in the middle of the road. It looked like a woman. And then, because she’s so scared and freaked out by all the spooky things happening at her house and running away from it all, she jumps out of the car — in the dark, on an abandoned road, in the middle of nowheres-ville — and starts shouting that the woman, who is beginning to look like a really grungy Kathy Bates, let Shelby take her to the hospital.
Injured woman goes into the woods and, contrary to all common-sense, Shelby follows her, gets lost (ya think?) and can’t find her way out, falls (really? I mean, really?), feels the ground moving creepily under her hands, then jumps up and starts screaming.
All I could think of was Tippi Hedren’s story about when she was making The Birds with Alfred Hitchcock, and her character was supposed to go upstairs where she knew those nasty birds had broken into the house, and Hedren asked Hitchcock, “What’s my motivation for going upstairs?” and Hitchcock said something like, “Your motivation is I’m the director and I’m telling you to do it.”
‘Cause, you know, otherwise, it makes no sense whatsoever.
That’s how I felt about American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare. The series lost its horror long ago, and is simply churning out the same stories (Death House and it mirror-story, Hotel, for example) with some new stars. The premiere of season 6 was not scary, some of the story made no sense, and the actors seemed to be doing things just because the writers and the director told them to.
And that’s sad, because I really loved Death House.
That is still the scariest season of American Horror Story yet.